What if an alien in the future stumbled upon Christopher Nolan’s Memento? Welcome to Earthling Cinema, where we examine the last remaining artifacts of a once-proud culture and try to understand what human lives were like before their planet was destroyed. I’m your host, Garyx Wormuloid.
This week’s film:
Stars: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Director: Christopher Nolan
Production Co: Summit Entertainment, Team Todd
Written by: Ben Steiner
Directed by: Jared Bauer
Analysis by: Kevin Winzer and Jared Bauer
Starring: Mark Schroeder (https://twitter.com/mark_schroeder)
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com)
Original Music by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Opening Animation by: Danny Rapaport
Produced by: Jacob S. Salamon
Memento’s Hidden Meaning – Earthling Cinema
Greetings, and welcome to Earthling Cinema. I am your host, Garyx Wormuloid. This week’s artifact is Memento, directed by this guy and starring this Guy.The film takes place in ritzy Los Angeles, the capital of Earth. Our protagonist is Leonard, a forgetful human male who lives in a motel and reads police files for shits and gigs. If you call trying to solve your wife’s murder shits and gigs, which I do. Not. Do NOT.
Leonard’s favorite person in the world is Sammy Jankis, but he doesn’t get to hang out with the Jankster. He has to hang out with a cop named John Teddy G instead.Teddy gives Leonard a smokin’ hot lead about an abandoned warehouse where they can film skate vids and also, if they have time, kill someone named Jimmy. Well Leonard does have time for killing, but not quite enough time for shopping.
Further eating into his time is Teddy droning on about Jimmy not being the one who murdered Leonard’s wife, and Leonard having already killed his wife’s attacker and forgot about it, and her actually dying from a medicine overdose administered by Leonard. Blah blah blah.Teddy tries to get Jimmy’s money from the trunk of his car, but nothing doing, because Leonard has already left to get a tattoo of his favorite band, SG137IU. Then he goes to a bar for a nice cold glass of spit.
Impressed by his refined palate, Jimmy’s girlfriend Natalie decides to use Leonard to put a some dude in a closet.In exchange, Natalie sleeps with Leonard, apparently having gotten over the disappearance of her boyfriend. She also informs him that, much to his surprise, Teddy is in the band SG137IU. Leonard is pretty lukewarm on their new album, so he takes Teddy to that same abandoned skate park and shoots his glasses off. All of that, except backward. Memento’s defining feature is its retrograde narrative form, just like how my defining feature is a mustache on my forehead.
By presenting the story in reverse, the film makes the audience experience the same sense of perpetual disorientation associated with Leonard’s brain goofs. Just as Leonard searches his surroundings for clues to acclimate himself every time his short-term memory resets, so too does the audience have to constantly rewind in order to know what the hell they’re watching. The film offers a variation on the “film noir” genre, my second favorite noir after pinot. Noir films often feature a lonely, hard-boiled egg of a private dick.
Here, Leonard is a retired insurance claims investigator, giving him all the tools for sleuthing, but none of the cachet, which is French for “money.” And though he may be able to play detective, he breaks the cardinal rule: “Never have the mysterious culprit turn out to be yourself.” Voiceover narration is often used in noir to orient the audience, but Leonard’s unreliable narration isn’t the slightest bit oriental.Which brings us to the subjectivity of truth. And I guess that makes me the truth fairy.
Leonard wants to believe that the world operates independent of his warped perspective — that his actions have meaning, even if he can’t remember them. Maybe not for you. See? Leonard claims to value only the facts, and dismisses memory as a bunch of big city hogswallop. But by deliberately manipulating the truth in order to construct a more palatable reality, Leonard proves that facts are a hog that can be just as easily swalloped. He uses repetition to condition himself to believe his mistakes belonged to Ned Ryerson, I mean Sammy Jenkis. He CHOOSES to make Teddy his victim by writing down his band name and labeling it a “FACT.” And he bleaches his hair blonde just so he can have more fun.
Leonard’s untrustworthiness forces us to re-evaluate our opinions of all the other two characters in the film. We are quick to condemn Natalie for exploiting Leonard, but her actions become more understandable when we find out Leonard killed her boyfriend, stole his car, and fit into his clothes perfectly without getting them tailored. Our opinion of Teddy is also constantly in flux, dimming every night after sunset. At first, we think he’s the real John G; later, we think he’s a crooked cop. Ultimately, we give up and move on, since the movie’s over and we’re out of snarfcorn. At the end of the film, the viewer is thrown a curveball that calls all of Leonard’s recollections into… question?
As Leonard drives away, he very irresponsibly closes his eyes and we see a quick image of Leonard in bed next to his wife. He has a tattoo that says “I’VE DONE IT” in the spot that Leonard reserved to memorialize his revenge. Is this just Leonard’s fantasy? Or did it really happen? Is it possible that Leonard killed John G, got the tattoo, accidentally killed his wife, then removed the tattoo so that he could begin his endless quest for John G? What is his relationship with the local tattoo artists at this point? Like Leonard, we’ll never know for sure what’s real and what’s not. We’ll just have to make something up. Like this promotional tie-in candy! Mementos: The Refreshmaker. They’ll make you completely forget your bad breath.
For Earthling Cinema, I’m Garyx Wormuloid.